Amyloid plaque buildup in the brain is strongly associated with Alzheimer's disease—so identifying early symptoms could be key to effective treatment. "Alzheimer's is a neurodegenerative disease, so in the end you can see a lot of neuron loss," says Wen-Chin "Brian" Huang, PhD. "At that point, it would be hard to cure the symptoms. It's really critical to understand what circuits and regions show neuronal dysfunction early in the disease. This will, in turn, facilitate the development of effective therapeutics." Here are five signs of amyloid buildup, according to experts. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is one of the earliest and most common signs of Alzheimer's disease, doctors say. "The most common sign is a memory problem, and it's usually episodic, meaning that it's hard to remember events in your life, past and present," says Dr. David Caplan, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.
Unexplained personality changes are another early sign of neurological issues—especially depression, apathy, egocentric behavior, and rigidity. "Behavioral changes are very common and affect upwards of 95% of people with dementia," says Ganesh Gopalakrishna, MD. These symptoms can be present 10-15 years before memory loss occurs.
Paranoia and Hallucinations
Unexplained paranoia could be a sign of dementia or Alzheimer's, experts say. "Many patients are burdened with depression, paranoia, or hallucinations," says Dr. Gopalakrishna. "This can be enough to make one feel unsafe even in their own home. The first step in these situations is to provide a safe environment, limiting the chances of any accidental or intentional harm to self or others."
Unexplained financial issues—for example, forgetting to pay bills, drastic changes in credit scores—could be a sign of Alzheimer's. "Currently there are no effective treatments to delay or reverse symptoms of dementia," says Lauren Hersch Nicholas, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School. "However, earlier screening and detection, combined with information about the risk of irreversible financial events, like foreclosure and repossession, are important to protect the financial well-being of the patient and their families. We don't see the same pattern with other health conditions. Dementia was the only medical condition where we saw consistent financial symptoms, especially the long period of deteriorating outcomes before clinical recognition. Our study is the first to provide large-scale quantitative evidence of the medical adage that the first place to look for dementia is in the checkbook."
Hearing loss is not just associated with dementia—it might be a cause of the condition, experts say. "Hearing loss can make the brain work harder, forcing it to strain to hear and fill in the gaps," according to Frank Lin, PhD. "That comes at the expense of other thinking and memory systems. Another possibility: Hearing loss causes the aging brain to shrink more quickly. A third possibility is that hearing loss leads people to be less socially engaged, which is hugely important to remaining intellectually stimulated. If you can't hear very well, you may not go out as much, so the brain is less engaged and active."